I'm told that there's a new standard being raised in issues of sexual consent--- a requirement for "enthusiastic consent". The slogan here is "Yes Means Yes", which replaces "No Means No" with a requirement not just for acquiescence or not saying No, but with a requirement for positive, active consent. There are arguments about what the standard means or entails all over the web. There's also a whole ongoing (and embittered) debate about the legal consequences of a Yes Means Yes standard. I won't go into that here. I'll save that discussion for later. What interests me this evening is the idea of "enthusiastic" consent--- the idea of enthusiasm itself.
I'm a bit perplexed about the whole concept of enthusiastic consent in sex. After all--- how many things in life really generate enthusiasm? Why do we look to sex for something that's not found in pretty much anything else? Job, school, really anything--- how much of life has anything to do with enthusiasm? Now, it does happen. Everyone's life has those moments, but they're far and few between. The first day at a new university, the first day at a job you wanted, the initial prospect of a new life in a new city... But those things are rare and fleeting.
Most of life--- most of the things you do in life ---aren't about enthusiasm. Life and social interactions are mostly about things done faute de mieux, things done out of a sense of social obligation, things done just to get by. Why do we expect sex to be any different?
You'd really like Thai food, but the restaurant you like is across town, and Chipotle is across the street. You'd like to see a particular band, but the tickets are more than you want to pay and the band at the dive bar in the next block over probably isn't that bad and at least you'll get out of the house. The film you really want to see is wait-listed at Netflix, so you move an okay film to the top of the queue. How much of life is like that?
There's a sunk-cost part of things, too. You decided to go see a film and made the trek crosstown. Once you're there, even if you have the sudden urge to go see another film at another cinema, well...you're already here.
How many times have you put on a necktie and looked in the mirror and told yourself to smile and gone to some social function for work and friends when you'd really rather have just stayed home? How many times have you looked at the incoming number on your iPhone screen and answered because it would be rude to ignore your particular caller? It's not that the activity or the conversation either one would be so very dreadful, it's just that there's that vague sense of social obligation that winds through daily life.
Again, why should sex be any different?
No means No; that's a given. But so very few human interactions generate that much enthusiasm, and we do things often enough because we feel like, well, at least it's something to do, or because we do feel a sense of duty or obligation. Expecting an enthusiastic Yes! Yes! from sex is probably as unrealistic as expecting it from anything else on a continuing basis. Many things--- maybe even most things ---in life are done with a shrug and a sigh. No means No, but acquiescence and faute de mieux are the stuff most of social and work life are made of.
Well...if you have any thoughts on this, or on what enthusiasm entails, do leave comments. Let me know what you're thinking.